Thursday, August 27, 2009

Life by the Drop

A scrawny kid 'borrows' his big brother's guitar and begins to mimic the sounds he hears on old Blues albums. Unable to read a note of music, he somehow coaxes unknown emotions from his older sibling's axe, his young, big hands displaying a muscular finesse grown guitarists would kill to possess. As the kid matures physically, much about him remains stunted, save the mastery of an instrument he never seems to put down. Soon he finds himself slinging his weapon on the local scene, sweating it out in club after club as he slowly re-wires the Electric Blues. When an overseas gig astounds the millionaires in attendance, he's recruited to play on a rock star's comeback album. The album goes platinum; the kid's gritty licks lauded by the press, his new set of peers and an adoring public.

But when the rock star invites the kid to join him on a world tour, the near destitute guitarist turns him down. He'd rather finish the crude recording of his own debut album, a nearly live rundown of his road-tested set list. That album exceeds all expectations and launches a career that introduces age old Blues masters to a new generation. Hit singles, silly videos and world tours follow; soon the kid is jamming with his childhood heroes and being held as The Blues' answer to Jimi Hendrix. It's heady praise for a young gunslinger and either despite or because of it, the kid fosters of habit of self destruction. Through it all, he rarely fails to blister the stage, though whiskey and coke are never out of reach. Predictably, it almost kills him, but just before it does, the kid does something few tortured virtuosos do: he sobered up.

After an uneasy but ultimately successful rehab, the kid emerges amped and lucid, his trademark tone back with a clear eyed vengeance. The performances that follow hypnotize all within earshot and between stunning numbers, the kid begins preaching the wisdom of leaving the party while you can still walk.He then marshal his forces, settles some old musical scores and plots the many compositions he hears in his head. Asked to join the roster of guitar giants at a promising concert, the now sober kid plugs in and lays waste to the stage. When the last encore ends, it is he who is held up as the evening's real legend. But even before the crowd clears the lot, the kid's true fate plays out, as the chopper he boards soon crashes into a foggy hillside, killing all souls within it. The Kid dies in his stage clothes, the echos of the audience still in his ears...
Stevie Ray Vaughan's life was as cinematic as his music. Ever since he perished 19 years ago today, I wondered if the story behind the music would ever be truly told. Since then, I've pieced together parts of his soul by dissecting every track he ever laid down - as well as many, many live shows surreptitiously recorded by others. His life's work continues to consume me and I've waited for the day when he will truly get his musical due. Two biographies have been published and years ago famed director Robert Rodriguez expressed intentions to make a movie about the man known as 'Guitar Hurricane' . Alas, the once innovator of guerrilla cinema seems content to pump out CG laden kiddie fair and second rate Tarantino dreck. I hope he hasn't forgotten the incredible heft of his fellow Texan's legacy. I damn well haven't and until Rodriguez or someone else helms the project, I'll avoid all those other biopics and drown my joys and sorrows in the soothing blister of SRV.

Here's hoping you will too.


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